In 8th grade, my whole grade had to take a class on public speaking. Our assignment was to write a speech about something that was meaningful to us, and annotate the document so that we could give the speech, convincingly, at the front of the class. So many of my teenage classmates, both the boys and the girls, spoke about giving younger kids the right to vote. I, on the other hand, spoke about the difficulty of being unpopular. I spoke passionately, while my classmates rolled their eyes, about being the last one chosen for sports teams and the feeling of isolation when someone moved my table name card at a Bar Mitzvah to ensure that they would not have to sit near me. My teacher was so moved by my speech that she had me deliver it at an all-school assembly. I assure you, this did not improve my popularity.
Throughout my life, I’ve never completely fit in. I was too “artsy” to hang with the science crowd, but too “nerdy” to fit with the theater crowd. I was too timid to be a surgeon, but too enamored with the operating room to be anything else. Currently, I am trying to navigate research and clinical care as the only person with protected research time in my department. Outside of work, I’m too Asian to fit in at my neighborhood country club, too American for my parents, and too much of a workaholic for the other parents at my kids’ school.
Over time, I have learned to embrace my uniqueness, realizing that I was my own Venn diagram of interests and experiences. This realization has had a profound impact on my growth as a leader. While I have definitely declined leadership roles due to my introverted nature and feelings of imposter syndrome, I discovered that I could excel as a leader by embracing my “misfit” qualities. I found joy in understanding people, their motivations, and empowering them to grow in ways that suited them best.
As a leader who embraces being a misfit, I have come to value diverse perspectives. I have learned to establish trust by actively listening and understanding the viewpoints of others. By finding common ground around shared goals, I can unite various perspectives toward a common purpose. Instead of feeling threatened by the talents and passions of my team members, I have learned to identify and leverage their skills to enhance our collective efforts.
Furthermore, embracing my own misfit status has taught me the importance of trusting and empowering team members to pursue their goals alongside me. I am constantly amazed at how incorporating the ideas of others consistently improves any idea I could have conceived alone.
Therefore, I encourage you to embrace your inner misfit as well. Here are some steps to follow:
- Start by building trust with your team by actively listening and understanding their perspectives.
- Seek common ground around shared goals, creating a unified sense of purpose.
- Recognize and leverage the unique passions and skills of your team members.
- Trust and empower your team to pursue their goals, fostering a collaborative and supportive environment.
By embracing your “misfit” qualities and celebrating the diversity of perspectives within your team, you can unlock the full potential of your leadership. Embrace your uniqueness, and you will discover the strength of unified and empowered collaboration.